It's not normal to see hundreds of people waiting for a bicycle shop to open, but that's what happens one Saturday of the year, said Kraig Decker, a spokesman for Duluth's Continental Ski & Bike.

"The line usually starts around 8:30, 8:45," Decker said.

By the time the store opens at 10, "700 or so people are waiting to get in."

The Black Friday-at-Best Buy-type line gathers for the store's annual Bike Swap, scheduled for its 10th iteration this weekend.

The event started, Decker said, as a way to do business and help a charity at the same time. At the suggestion of the late Steve O'Neil, the United Way was chosen as the beneficiary.

The relationship has remained the same ever since, with the Head of the Lakes United Way receiving more than $60,000 from the event to date, said Machelle Kendrick, the agency's marketing director.

It works like this:

Today, people with bicycles they're ready to part with can bring them to the store at 1305 E. First St. (It's also OK to bring them in between 8 and 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, Decker said.)

If the bike sells, they get 75 percent of the take, and the rest goes to the United Way. Or they can choose to simply donate the bike, and the United Way gets all of the money. If it doesn't sell, they can take it back or Continental will donate it to Community Action Duluth.

The event has grown every year, Decker said. Last year, 550 bikes were sold through the swap, and a check for a little more than $13,000 was written to the United Way.

That represented significant growth over the previous year, when 326 bikes were sold, Kendrick said.

It's no coincidence that it takes place around the time of Earth Day, she added. It enforces the message of reusing and repurposing goods rather than just throwing them out.

It works out fine for the store, too, which offers sales and giveaways of its own, Decker said. "We obviously have a really good weekend."

The swap has seen every type of bike in the past, he said: mountain bikes, hybrids, cruisers, recumbents, tandems, fat bikes, bike parts, bike racks and children's bikes.

The latter is a particularly attractive feature, Kendrick said. "For families, it really helps them stretch a dollar."

Prices typically range from $40 to $2,000, Decker said, and will be about half the retail price of the same bike purchased new.

The swap has become more of an event in recent years, he said, with the 1300 block of First Street closed during the swap. It provides a safe environment for people to "test drive" bicycles. It also provides space for locally owned vendors, such as Bent Paddle, Duluth Experience and Third Street Bakery.

Dave Grandmaison, co-founder and CEO of the tourism-oriented business Duluth Experience, said his company will have a presence at the swap for the third time. It's a natural for the business, whose tour offerings include traveling by mountain bike, fat bike or road bike.

It's worth supporting the event because of the money that goes to United Way, he said.

Grandmaison, who owns five bicycles, bought one of them at the swap two years ago. It's a good place and time to look for a bike not only because you can get a bargain but you can get your questions answered by Continental staffers and volunteers.

A Duluth Transit Authority bus will be on hand so people can learn how to load their bikes on the bike rack in front. The DTA is donating 400 single-use passes for the event, Decker said.

The sale will continue on Sunday, with bike prices reduced 20 percent, he said. But the major activity will be on Saturday.

"We sell two or three hundred bikes in the first two or three hours," Decker said.

Grandmaison affirmed that.

"I always tell people get there early," he said. "There will be a lot of people there."

If you go

  • What: 10th annual Bike Swap
  • Where: Continental Ski & Bike, 1305 E. First St.
  • When: Bring in bikes you wish to sell or donate between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. today or from 8-9:45 a.m. Saturday. Sale hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
  • Also: As part of the event, the animated cycling movie “The Triplets of Belleville” will be shown free at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Zinema 2, 222 E. Superior St.
  • To learn more: Continental Ski & Bike, (218) 728-4466; continentalski.com